Reporting to more than one boss

Following on last week’s theme of the changing workplace and how that affects reporting relationships, reporting to more than one boss is now as common as reporting to a far-away-in-a-distant-land boss (which we discussed last week, if you missed it). This week, let’s look at the possibly more challenging undertaking of reporting to more than one boss.

With temporary teams abounding,  matrix organisations becoming more common and temporary assignments to project teams commonplace, it’s goodbye unity of command and hello to the danger of conflict and confusion of two or more bosses.

Reporting to several managers, each making requests of you, each with their own agenda and priorities can be tricky. You’re in danger of:

  • Competing demands on your time: Which boss’ work gets priority? Tricky when each thinks their work deserves precedence.
  • Conflicting messages: Different bosses have different expectations and communication styles and they can unintentionally undermine each other’s messages.
  • Work overload: This occurs especially when each boss treats you as if you work only for her or him.

To protect yourself, work out who your primary boss is. This is the person you formally report to, who does your final performance review and who makes decisions about your pay. Make sure you have regular, at least monthly, meetings with this boss — not the quick weekly check-in discussed in the next paragraph, but a more solid 30-40 minute meeting to discuss your role as a whole. Ask for her or his help in coaching you to work well with your other bosses if you need to.

Be open about your workload so all your bosses know your commitments. Share your electronic calendar with them and block off specific times for working on different projects and assignments so they know when not to interrupt you. Provide each with a brief document updating your progress on all of your projects and other work. However briefly, check in with each boss face-to-face or virtually once a week to maintain your good working relationships.

When you have several bosses, it’s probably fair to ask each to adjust to your preferred working style so you don’t have to keep chopping and changing, which is stressful in itself. Let them know whether you prefer to receive questions and requests via email, meetings or in some other way. Agree on mutual expectations regarding response time for queries, regularity of meetings and regularity and format of update briefings. Try to agree on one way that works for everyone.

As with working for one boss, be clear about your deadlines and deliverables, focus on results and keep communication and results flowing.

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